Monday, February 19, 2024

Presidents Day 2024


Benjamin Harrison, our nation's 23rd president, (and grandson of the ninth president) served from 1889-1893. He admitted Idaho and five other states into the union, created the national forests, and oversaw a great deal of economic legislation, including the first billion dollar budget for the United States. He was called Little Ben because of his 5' 6" height and being the grandson of a former president. He is also known as the Centennial President for being inaugurated 100 years after George Washington. 

Photo by C.M. Bell
held by the Library of Congress
I was not filled with my usual anticipation and joy in the days leading up to this year's presidential portrait. The news of the presidential election coming up this November has already given me my fill of presidential politics. In 1892, Benjamin Harrison faced the same opponent he had beaten four years earlier, Grover Cleveland. However, that seems to be where the comparison ends. Harrison had been known as a front-porch campaigner in 1889, giving speeches from his home in Indiana rather than travelling the country and making headlines. In 1892, his wife was ill and both candidates agreed not to personally campaign and keep things low key and quiet leading up to the election. It's nearly impossible to imagine such a thing with today's barrage of news and sound bites. I, for one, would welcome giving it a try this year!

“I have traversed this broad land of ours, and out of all this journeying, out of all this mingling with our people, I have come to be a prouder and, I hope, a better American.”

For having only four years in office, Benjamin Harrison accomplished many things that we can still see today. He modernized the U.S. Navy, annexed Hawaii, and signed the Sherman Antitrust Act into law. He was also the first president to have his voice recorded and to have electric light in the White House (although he often slept with the lights on because he was afraid of being electrocuted by touching the switches). For being a lesser-known president, he made some incredibly quotable statements. I included one on the photo, but had to add a few more between my paragraphs.

“I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.”

Admitting Idaho to the Union has made Harrison a background fixture of my entire life. Growing up on Lake Coeur d'Alene, I always enjoyed a trip across the lake to visit the town of Harrison. As a teacher, most of my career has been spent at Bryan Elementary on Harrison Street. Interestingly enough, if Harrison had won a second term it is likely my school's namesake, William Jennings Bryan, would have been the president to follow him in 1897.

"Great lives do not go out, they go on."

If you care to see my interpretations of some of our great (and not so great) presidents of the past

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